21 June 2006
This year the schools celebrated the winter solstice a week early, due to the timing of the school holidays.
This was the first such festival we have celebrated at the boys' new school, and it's interesting to see how differently all the schools interpret the winter festival, the solstice, the celebration of the return of the light, and the coming together of a community.
As one of the Class 6 children, Son #1 was one of the torch bearers, but it wasn't until on the night that I realised he was the leader, and the one who brought the light to the whole school.
Wrapped in coats and scarves, we assembled in the dark playground under a black bowl of a sky liberally strewn with stars. A lone drum sounded and the six torch bearers filed solemnly in to the central space, with Son#1 in the lead. Tears filled my eyes as I saw he was the only one whose torch was lit. My boy, and the new kid to boot. To the sound of the drumming, he led the other children in a solemn spiral, moving gradually and rhythmically inward until they were shoulder to shoulder in a loose circle. Again, to the beat of the drumming, Son #1 gently dipped his huge torch to light that of the child next to him, who lit the one next to her and so on until all six torches were blazing in the darkness.
They then walked the spiral in reverse and each child took their torch to where the teachers and other children were gathered, and lit the teachers' lanterns. From there, each child's lantern that they had made during the week was lit, while one of the Class 3 children led the school in a song. The parents were invited to light any lanterns they had brought [I took ours from last year], and hushed and solemn, the entire school community then walked through the night to where the bonfire was ready.
More songs, and then the moment everyone had been waiting for. The torch bearers lit the bonfire from the bottom, planted their torches around the circle and stepped back.
Flushed faces shone in the glow of the lanterns, voices joined together in song, and gradually the fire took off. First a thick column of smoke spiralled upward, then came the leaping licking flames and finally, thousands of sparks spun through the nightsky.
Look at all the fire fairies! shouted a small child in wonder. Indeed.
Soup flasks were shared around and smiles were exchanged as the children leapt about, hyped by the leaping fire and the deliciousness of staying-up-late, while babies slept in slings and mothers' arms.
The next night we were invited to attend the solstice festival of the school Son #1 will be attending next year. It was a very different, quiet and dignified affair. Very beautiful, full of reverence and silence, and a steadily growing light as each child lit a candle, then lit candles held by the audience until the hall was positively glowing. At this school it is also the tradition that the Class 6 children bring the light to the school, as they are the transitioning class, the ones moving away from the primary rooms and into the secondary section of the school, joined by the newcomers such as Son #1 from other Steiner primary schools who swell their ranks to form a double Class 7.
On Saturday we are going to round off our wintry week by attending the Collingwood Children's Farm winter solstice festival. We've been once before and it is a joyous, primal, pagan-like celebration filled with music and fire twirling and the biggest lantern parade and bonfire you've ever seen.
After that I think we should be more than ready to welcome the return of the light to our part of the world.
Postscript: A commenter asked me some time ago to share my thoughts on Steiner schooling and how it is perceived in Australia. I haven't forgotten, and as it's one of my passions I would like to comment. However I'm not sure I'm qualified to make such pronouncements, particularly as I would be commenting from within the Steiner community here, but I have been turning it over in my head and will see if I can put something together soon.